UKIP proposes UK immigration should copy Australia. It already does.

By Alex Owen

Nigel Farage, the leader of the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) which won the greatest number of votes in the European Parliament election in the UK in May, has said that UKIP favours a points-based immigration system for the UK, similar to that of Australia.

On 8th July, Mr Farage told the London talk radio station LBC Radio 'The Aussies have a points system and they say to come to Australia you must be under 45 years of age, you must have a skill or a trade that will bring a benefit to our country'.

The interesting thing about Mr Farage's policy, if it can be called that, is that the UK already has such a system. It is not identical to the Australian system and it is in many ways much more restrictive but migrants coming to the UK for work have already had to pass points-based tests since 2008.

Farage 'does not know about UK immigration system'

Sanwar Ali of workpermit.com said 'As Mr Farage is intending to stand for parliament on an anti-immigration platform next year, it might be better if he did some research first. He does not appear to know very much about the UK immigration system'.

It may be that what Mr Farage is actually suggesting is that only immigrants who pass a points-based test will be allowed entry. That doesn't happen in Australia any more than it does here. In fact, it doesn't happen in any country on earth.

Migration is a complex issue. Broadly speaking, migrants fall into four main categories

  • Workers
  • Family members of citizens and residents
  • Refugees and asylum seekers
  • Students

Employment-based migration

The UK and Australia both have visa streams for all of these groups. In both the UK and Australia, about a quarter of migrants come with employment-based visas. This is more or less the same as in Canada and much higher that the US where only 6% of migrants arrive with employment-based visas.

It would not make sense to admit only working migrants without allowing entry of their spouse and dependents; Migrants, knowing that their spouses and children could never join them in the UK, would choose to go and work in another country, like Australia or Canada, where this would be allowed.

And the UK is bound by international treaty to admit those in genuine danger in their home countries. Clearly, no points system for these migrants would be possible or desirable.

Students

Similarly, Mr Farage would presumably not wish to prevent students from coming to the UK. The UK's international education sector is thought to be worth more than £10bn a year. But if UKIP would only admit those who are already highly skilled, many students would not qualify.

So, under any type of UK points-based system there would still be migrants who would not have to pass a points-based test and the UK would still have obligations under international law to provide asylum.

But what is the Australian system that Mr Farage so admires and how does it differ from the UK's system?

SkillSelect

The Australian points-based system was introduced by Conservative Prime Minister John Howard in the 1990s. There have been a number of changes in recent years and it now operates as the SkillSelect system.

Since 2012, SkillSelect applicants must submit an initial application known as an Expression of Interest' (EOI). In the EOI, they must give details of their experience, qualifications, work experience, age and so forth. These applications are then considered by Australian immigration. Applicants considered suitable are then invited to submit a formal application with proof of their qualifications, work experience, and other relevant documentation to Australia immigration.

But over 70% of Australian migrants do not need go through this system. This is a part of, not an alternative to, the wider immigration system.

UK points-based system

The UK has had its own points-based system since 2008. The UK's main visa stream for skilled workers is the Tier 2 skilled work visa.

There are two main Tier 2 visas

  • The Tier 2 (General) visa for skilled workers and
  • The Tier 2 (Intra Company Transfer) visa for workers from international companies wishing to transfer to the UK.

To qualify for both, applicants must pass points-based tests.

For Example, to be awarded a Tier 2 (General) skilled worker visa, applicants must score 70 points on the Tier 2 General points test. Points are awarded as follows
Tier 2 (General) visa points test

Points table
Attribute Points
Ability to support oneself before being paid 10
Speaking English to the required standard 10
Academic qualifications – One of the following
PhD 15
Bachelors or master's degree 10
GCE A' level or equivalent 5
Prospective earnings – one of the following
£32,000 per year or more 20
£28,000-31,999 15
£24,000-27,999 10

UK v Australia

There are two main differences between the UK visas and the Australian visas and both of these make it harder to get a visa in the UK than in Australia.

These are

  • In most cases the UK requires applicants to have a job before they can apply. In Australia, some workers can apply for state-sponsored visas which allow them to come to Australia without first obtaining an offer of work. In the UK, applicants must usually have the offer of a job from a UK employer with a valid Tier 2 sponsorship licence before they can apply.
  • In the UK, foreign workers must have worked in the country for five years before they can apply for a permanent residence visa. In Australia, many migrants are issued with permanent residence visas as soon as they arrive. The UK offers successful work visa applicants temporary residence visas. After five years in the UK, providing that they meet residence and other requirements they can then apply for permanent residence visas (the proper term is Indefinite Leave to Remain).

It is strange to hear Nigel Farage, whose limited electoral success has come from his opposition to immigration, seemingly advocating a relaxation of the UK's visa system which would it make it easier and quicker for immigrants to arrive in the UK.

Probationary period

In effect, in the UK, workers must do a five-year probationary period before they can apply for permanent residence (or Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) as it is known). If they get a criminal record or lose their job in the interim, they may have to leave. This would seem to be more likely to be popular with UKIP voters than the system he proposes.

In fact, what Mr Farage proposes seems remarkably similar to another UK visa; The Tier 1 (General) visa for highly skilled migrants. This visa was introduced in 2008 and has most of the attributes Mr Farage advocates.

Applicants got points for their age as follows

Age in years Points
Under 30 20
30 to 34 10
35 to 39 5
40 and over 0

They got points for their education. The rules changed from time to time but points were awarded for Bachelor's degrees, Master's degrees and PhDs.

Tier 1 (General) visa

Points were also awarded for previous earnings and work experience in the UK. There were also points awarded for English language proficiency and for the possession of sufficient funds to support oneself before being paid in the UK.

Applicants were required to score 100 points against a UK points-based test. These applicants then came to the UK to live and work. They were allowed to take any job they wanted and were allowed to set up as self-employed.

So what happened? In 2010, the UK's Tier 1 (General) visa stream was closed to new entrants by the government. Home Secretary Theresa May said at the time 'At least 30% of Tier One migrants work in low-skilled occupations such as stacking shelves, driving taxis or working as security guards and some don't have a job at all'.

Seats at Westminster

Sanwar Ali of workpermit.com said 'Realistically, it doesn't really matter much what the UKIP immigration policy is. It's not going to form the next government in the UK. In fact, it's not even likely to get a seat in parliament. It might get one or two at most.

'But voters should be aware that, when Mr Farage talks about immigration, he is misleading the public. We already have a points-based system.

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